There’s some question as to exactly how many federal investigations Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt is currently facing. My tally puts the number at 14. Dana Milbank, however, counts 15.
Either way, let’s all agree that the far-right EPA chief is in a fair amount of trouble, facing all kinds of allegations, including corruption, abuses of power, and misuse of public resources. I made the argument in March that the question shouldn’t be whether Scott Pruitt will keep his job, but rather, whether or not he should be looking for a good defense attorney.
As it turns out, Pruitt was thinking along similar lines. Politico reported yesterday:
EPA administrator Scott Pruitt has tapped a white-collar defense lawyer to advise him as he grapples with a dozen federal investigations into his activity, according to two people familiar with the situation.
Paul Rauser, co-founder of the firm Aegis Law Group, has been assisting Pruitt for several weeks as the Environmental Protection Agency chief faces fierce scrutiny on everything from his international travel and his lavish spending to his $50-per-night lease in a Capitol Hill condo owned by the wife of an energy lobbyist, these people said. Rauser has recently been spotted at EPA headquarters, according to the people.
On a related note, the New York Times reported a couple of weeks ago that the EPA administrator has created a legal defense fund, and yesterday, Pruitt confirmed that the report is accurate.
And while that may seem understandable given the avalanche of scandals falling on the Oklahoma Republican, Pruitt’s legal defense fund is not without complications, as a recent Mother Jones report explained:
Legal defense funds aren’t that unusual: The Clintons used them, and they’ve cropped up again in the Trump administration to help defray the costs for officials and campaign staffers in Robert Mueller’s investigation.
But as the head environmental regulator, Pruitt having a legal defense fund raises even more questions for government ethics experts, who have trouble envisioning how he will accept donations without creating another ethical mess. “Any time Pruitt has an opportunity to use public office for private gain, I would raise a red flag,” says Kathleen Clark, legal ethics professor at the Washington University in St. Louis.
Virginia Canter, executive branch counsel for Citizens for Responsibility Ethics in Washington (CREW), added, “Legal defense funds can be expensive and difficult to maintain due to extensive screening, compliance, and reporting requirements. From that perspective alone, he would be better off resigning.”
Finally, a New York Times report added yesterday that Pruitt “told a Senate panel on Wednesday that one of his employees had worked without pay on her personal time to find him a place to live, a service that Democrats said amounted to a violation of federal law.”
Or put another way, it may soon be time to update the list of federal investigations into the EPA chief.